Sophomore running back Duke Watson hit 1,000 yards on the season and quarterback Logan Hickman threw for 244 yards and three touchdowns as MP torched Pike County at Pirate Stadium on Friday 48-14.
The win over the Pirates (1-5, 1-3 region) was a needed tonic after MP was throttled by Crisp County the week before as the Bulldogs get ready to hunt a playoff berth in the stretch run.
“We needed that,” said MP coach Brian Nelson. “We didn’t turn the ball over and got four turnovers from them. In football, it’s usually going to come down to that.”
With just 3 games left in the regular season, Mary Persons’ path to return to the playoffs after missing last year is getting clearer. MP (4-3, 3-2 region) is off this Friday. But next Friday’s game against Upson-Lee will go a long way toward determining whether MP makes the postseason.
The top four teams in Region 2-AAA punch their tickets to the playoffs. Clinch County and Peach County appear to have solidified the top two spots, and the Cougars beat the Trojans last week, all but solidifying their claim as region champs.
MP currently sits where it wound up last year, in fifth place, on the outside looking in behind Jackson and Upson-Lee. But the schedule is in their favor. The Bulldogs have already taken their losses to powerhouses Peach and Crisp. Jackson and Upson-Lee both must still must play Peach County. So if the Dogs take care of business against Upson-Lee next Friday they should be in good shape.
The Bulldogs wasted little time taking control on a wet field after a week of rain. After forcing the Pirates to go three and out on their opening drive, MP started at its own 38 and gave Pike a heavy dose of Duke Watson. He carried five times as the Bulldogs drove to the Pike 29. The drive seemed to bog down there as MP faced 4th and 5. MP went for it and Hickman found Jake Lavinka for a 29-yard score. Tripp Shipman’s PAT made it 7-0 with 4:47 left in the first.
But Pike didn’t lie down. They responded when quarterback Gage Lee found junior Jakilen King on a 66-yard touchdown pass on first down and it was 7-7.
MP responded with a methodical 16-play, 7-minute drive that included two fourth-down conversions. It was capped on 4th and goal at the Pike 8 when Hickman found senior DJ Martinez for the score. MP led 14-7 with 9:07 left in the second.
After MP forced another punt the Bulldogs began at their own 35. On first down Watson exploded for 43 yards but it was called back for an illegal block. Two plays later Hickman found Lavinka for 8 yards and Pike was flagged 15 yards for targeting on the tackle. That moved MP to the Pike 17. Three plays later Watson bounded in from 4 yards out and MP led 21-7 with 4:04 left in the half.
The Bulldogs forced a fumble on Pike’s next possession and Champ Brantley recovered at the MP 36. On first down Hickman connected with Martinez for 36 yards. On the next play, Watson bursted another 36 yards for the score and MP was rolling, 28-7 with 1:52 until half.
MP forced Pike into 3rd and 11 at its own 42 on its next possession, and that’s when Champ Brantley intercepted a long bomb at the MP 23 just before halftime.
The Bulldogs padded their lead after getting the second half kickoff near midfield thanks to Pike’s failed onsides kick attempt that was recovered by senior Griffin Morris. Martinez caught three passes on the drive, including a 30 yarder, setting up a JT Owens’ touchdown run from a yard out. The PAT was missed and it was 34-7.
Pike finally scored again on its next possession courtesy a 71-yard run by King again, who scored both touchdowns for the Pirates. MP’s lead was 34-14.
Things started to go a little sideways when Pike recovered the ensuing onsides kick at the 49 yard line. But junior Ryan Jenkins quickly nipped that in the bud by intercepting the Pirates and returning it to the MP 46. Despite a 20-point lead, MP went to the air and Hickman delivered with a 15 yard completion to Maury Lowe, and 13 yards to Martinez. Then Hickman hit Martinez for 28 yards and the score and MP led 41-14 with 4:53 left in the third.
Pike began to threaten on its next possession driving to the MP 19 yard line. But Jenkins did it again, picking off a Pike pass and returning it 29 yards. The Bulldogs took advantage as Hickman found Seth Davis for a 12-yard touchdown toss. Freshman Ryan Bankston’s PAT made it 48-14 as the third quarter wound down.
Nelson said he was glad to see young players like Javon Sands and RJ Holder getting a lot of playing time and do well in the contest.